Useful vocabulary for this episode:
Volcán = Volcano
Fuego = Fire
Nevado = Snow-capped
Pueblos Mágicos = Magical Towns
Panaderías = Bakeries
Parque Ecológico = Ecological Park
Parque Nacional - National Park
Antenas = Antennas
Mal de Montaña = Altitude sickness
The states of Colima, and Jalisco, Mexico are both home to two of the highest mountains in the country. “El Volcán Nevado” and “El Volcán de Fuego” (“The Snow-Capped Volcano” and the “Fire Volcano”). Although, these two volcanos are mostly located in the state of Jalisco, people call them the “Volcanos of Colima” because it is from Colima that people get the best views of these majestic giants.
A “fire” and a “snow” volcano. One right next to the other, how cool is that!? Nature is truly fascinating and allowed for this to happen thousands of years ago when the Snow-Capped Volcano started to become extinguished. After a very active life, the volcano started cooling down which created a block of solid lava inside of it. Years later, the Snow-Capped Volcano started its activity again. But all of that matter inside the volcano was trapped by the block of solid lava. So much pressure built up that a second crater began to emerge from one side of the Snow-Capped Volcano. This is how the Fire Volcano of Colima was born.
Living in Volcanos’ Territory:
The state of Colima is also my home in Mexico. I was born and raised in Manzanillo, a small port city in Colima. With the volcanoes always there, in the distance. Earthquakes, ash flying around in the sky, and all the things that come with living by one of the most active volcanoes in the country are common things to me. I have fond memories of my childhood going to the Snow-Capped Volcano in the winter with my family. I learned so much about nature from them and every time I see a volcano, I can’t help to compare it to my volcanos in Colima.
Comala, A Magical Town:
When I was about to start college, we moved to Comala, Colima. A very rustic, peaceful and picturesque little town which is one of the 111 Pueblos Magicos* of Mexico. A trip to the Fire Volcano has to start or end in this enchanting town.
* Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) are towns in Mexico that preserve old traditions. Most of them are very small and forgotten places which only after being named “Pueblo Magico” start getting noticed by tourists. Tourism plays an important role in the economy of most to these towns. If you are looking for an authentic Mexico experience, go check them out! There are 122 Pueblos Mágicos all over the country.
Comala has the best coffee, which is usually grown organically in towns neighboring the area of the volcanos (this makes for rich and nutritious soil where pretty much anything can grow), many old-fashioned panaderías where they use all natural ingredients and ancient recipes for the fluffiest, most decadent Mexican sweet bread you will ever taste, and the best ponche, an alcoholic Mexican drink made with real fruit flavors. In Comala you can also find “cantina-style” restaurants where you only pay for your drinks and they serve you all kinds of Mexican dishes to share with your friends. There are stores for arts and crafts with beautiful handmade designs and paintings of the volcanos, small hotels in antique Mexican houses and so much more.
A few miles past Comala, you’ll find the Parque Ecológico La María. From here you can get a really close view of the Fire Volcano. We stayed a few days there (and we were able to see a small erupción one night!) You can read more about our experience at La María in our blogpost Experience: La María and The Fire Volcano.
How to get to the Snow-Capped Volcano:
After our stay in La María, we headed to a town in Jalisco called Ciudad Guzman. The best route to get to the Parque Nacional Nevado de Colima starts in this town. We rented a car in Guadalajara from Hertz (As we usually do. We get so many discount coupons just from renting cars from them so frequently! - No, this comment is not sponsored by Hertz, we simply like their service) and drove to Ciudad Guzman.
We decided to stay the night there so we could start our way up to the Nevado early the next morning. When you are in Ciudad Guzman, look for the Instituto Tecnológico de Ciudad Guzman on Google or Apple Maps. This school is on the way to the park. We noticed that the directions to the park on google/apple maps are wrong so it is best to look for the school and go on from there. We also recommend you bring food and plenty of water. Your last chance to get these is at the store right across from the school. Once you are there, just keep going on the same road. A few minutes past the school, the road splits in two. Take the right lane and keep going for a few more minutes, pretty soon you will see signs to the Parque Nacional Nevado de Colima.
Take a left turn when you see the main sign and start your way up the volcano. We rented a very small car which was not meant to be driven up a mountain. We regretted our decision right away. So, if you can get a car with bigger wheels we strongly suggest you do that. Even a mid-sized vehicle will make your trip much easier.
What to expect going up the volcano:
It is a long drive up the mountain and the road is in poor condition. If it is raining, or has been, it is going to be muddy and slippery. Be careful and don’t risk your life driving up there in bad weather. The park closes when the Volcán de Fuego is active to prevent people from getting hurt.
We drove for a little over 10 miles until we got to the main entrance of the park. When you get here, you have to pay $31 pesos (approximately $1.60 USD at the time of writing) and from there, you can keep driving until you find the gates and signs which say that cars can’t come through.
There’s restrooms along the park, picnic tables, grills, camping areas, and hiking trails which take you on different routes. We followed the route to the antenas where a team is constantly monitoring the volcano. When Jim and I went together we didn’t make it all the way to the top because it was getting late and we had no idea how much more we would need to keep walking to get to the lookout. When he and his friends went, they made it to the top of the volcano. Which, we later found out, is not technically allowed (Oopsy!). However, this rule doesn’t seem to be enforced as no one is there to stop you from climbing to the top.
Watch out for Mal de Montaña symptoms:
The Volcán Nevado is one of the highest mountains in the country. In fact, it is the 7th highest mountain in Mexico at 14,000 feet above sea level. When you are this high up you notice right away how hard it is to get enough oxygen. This is precisely what Mal de Montaña is (Altitude Sickness): when you are not getting enough oxygen in your body due to high altitudes. It can be extremely dangerous and affect your lungs and brain when ignored. Some of the most common symptoms include:
Stomachache / Vomit
Loss of appetite
Know your limits and listen to your body. Do not push yourself too hard. There may not be anyone else there to help you in case of an emergency. Even If you like hiking and are in somewhat good shape, this will be a challenge. Eat a calorie dense meal and stay hydrated prior to starting this adventure.
Weather and Temperature:
Temperatures on the volcano can get really low in the winter, and storms tend to form quite rapidly. Dress in layers and bring a hat and gloves. People visit the park all year round but more so in the winter, when there is snow on the top of the volcano. When we visited, in March, there was very little snow on the ground, we had a very light snowfall and a little bit of rain.
What to bring:
Comfortable hiking shoes
Warm enough clothes for drastic changes in temperature
Food / snacks
Hat and gloves
We had so much fun exploring the area around the Volcanos of Colima. It sure was an unforgettable experience. ¡Tienes que conocerlo!
Have you ever visited an active volcano? If you haven’t, would you? Let us know in the comments!